In a Nutshell: Shared Harvest offers borrowers an innovative solution to pay off their student loan debt by volunteering in neighborhoods with the greatest need. Volunteers sign up to work for organizations and earn money that goes directly to pay off student loans — and the majority of the cost is tax deductible. Shared Harvest volunteering opportunities are primarily in the wellness and health care fields, but the organization plans to open up more opportunities around the US. Volunteers match with organizations that fit their passions, and develop skills and valuable experience that put them ahead of peers when looking for a new job.
Student loans are often necessary to get an education and land a high paying job. While that may be true, many people are burdened with ballooning debt that may never be paid off.
Student loan debt has increased dramatically in the last few decades. About 45 million Americans currently owe a combined $1.7 trillion in student loans. Women hold nearly two-thirds of that debt, and because of the gender pay gap, they are more likely to struggle to pay back their debt
A study on the student debt crisis by the nonprofit The Education Trust, which works to close opportunity gaps that disproportionately affect students of color and students from low-income families, found that Black women are most negatively affected by student loans because of systemic racism and the inequitable distribution of wealth.
The study found that, because Black women make less money, they often need to borrow more to cover the cost of attendance and struggle to pay their debt back. This is an issue Dr. Nana Afoh-Manin hoped to solve to level the playing field for all students.
Dr. Afoh-Manin founded and developed Shared Harvest, a platform that allows people with student debt to use their skills to help others while making significant strides in paying back student loans. The organization started four years ago as a volunteer management solution and evolved into a workforce wellness and independent community-based health corps in order for individuals and employers to get involved in loan forgiveness opportunities for their workforce while measuring tangible community impact.
“We wanted to eliminate the shackles of student loan debt while helping people do good for their communities,” Dr. Afoh-Manin said. “The way we thought that would work is by creating a Peace Corps in our own backyards and giving borrowers the agency to choose how and when they want to serve.”